Published: Wednesday, February 22, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 18:01
This summer, I am going on a service trip to Jamaica. I will spend 10 days of the beginning of vacation teaching kids at a primary school, volunteer at a nursing home, serving the community, and supporting the disabled. I, alongside a group of 15 peers, will serve as examples of hope and optimism to people who have seen extended amounts of pain, suffering, and poverty. Many of the students we will be working with do not live in communities where young adults flourish intellectually without having domestic or familial obligations. When I first applied to the service trip, to be quite honest, it was so that I could gain the experience that many of my classmates at Boston College always value. Part of my decision to do a short-term service trip was to break free from my comfort zone and help someone in a different setting. I wanted to be immersed in another culture that I am unfamiliar with and hopefully undergo a transformative experience.
Part of my incentive to apply also was because I wanted to be in a position of empowering others that would make me feel like a better, more satisfied individual. Little did I realize that the purposes of a service trip extend further than what I was imagining.
BC is an institution that takes pride in championing the ideal of being young men and women for others. As part of this Jesuit culture, students aim to do service because we are taught that by serving others, we are serving ourselves. BC students genuinely care about assisting others and take on any opportunity they can find to do so. Consequently, BC has multiple local, domestic, and international service and volunteering programs that engage students to raise awareness and fight for multiple causes. When it comes to service trips, however, there exists controversy on how beneficial they actually are.
Many opponents of short-term service trips argue that students spend months planning and fundraising large sums of money to attend and fund plane tickets when they could just donate the money they raise. In some ways, this is a valid point because students are still spending their time to gather resources for the issue they believe in. Often times, those going on service trips not only ask for monetary help, but also old clothes, toys, books, or other supplies that they feel the community they serve within might make use of.
Additionally, the money donated to the country could possibly generate more jobs and labor, pay staff members, build facilities or improve those currently instated, and collect other crucial resources. Another point that challengers bring up is that short-term service trips benefit those who go on them more than the ones served. Some argue that many students value the enlightening experience they receive post-trip more than the effects it has on the community they are in. Part of going on the trip is creating this image of someone who sacrifices his or her vacation or free time to make changes for others. Those against service trips believe that sometimes this is a selfish incentive.
Although I understand the practicality of the points that opponents mention, I strongly advocate for service trips. Although my understanding of their importance has evolved over time, I think that service trips are notable in the personal connections that they create. Though I agree that donating the money a group raises would be advantageous to the region in certain aspects, by being in a country and actually witnessing the social justice issues that occur, one gains a better understanding of where the money is going.
One of the biggest problems is that our peers are not aware of the conflicts in third-world countries or less fortunate areas, but by personally travelling to these places, one is inspired and can then share this knowledge with others. Additionally, many global areas feel isolated and as if those in fortunate conditions are not concerned with what is happening. Again, this notion is disproved because service trips make it their goal to incorporate themselves into the respective communities. What makes a service trip successful is not only what the group does during their time abroad, but the continual progress they make once they return back to the familiarity of their homes. Following up with those whom they served or even working on additional projects to help in creative ways is a reminder of why we volunteer in the first place. Real service is giving something that can't be bought or measured, but instead given with a full, open heart.